Quantum technology and its impact on mobile network security

In contrast to conventional cryptography and PQC, the security of QKD is inherently tied to the physical layer, which makes the threat surfaces of QKD and conventional cryptography quite different. QKD implementations have already been subjected to publicized attacks [12] and the NSA notes that the risk profile of conventional cryptography is better understood [13]. The fact that conventional cryptography and PQC are implemented at a higher layer than the physical one means PQC can be used to securely send protected information through untrusted relays, as illustrated in the top half of Figure 4. This is in stark contrast with QKD, which relies on hop-by-hop security between intermediate trusted nodes. The PQC approach is better aligned with the modern technology environment, in which more applications are moving toward end-to-end security and zero-trust principles. It is also important to note that while PQC can be deployed as a software update, QKD requires new hardware.

Regarding QKD implementation details, the NSA states that communication needs and security requirements physically conflict in QKD and that the engineering required to balance them has extremely low tolerance for error. While conventional cryptography can be implemented in hardware in some cases for performance or other reasons, QKD is inherently tied to hardware. The NSA points out that this makes QKD less flexible with regard to upgrades or security patches. As QKD is fundamentally a point-to-point protocol, the NSA also notes that QKD networks often require the use of trusted relays, which increases the security risk from insider threats.

As QKD requires external authentication through conventional cryptography, the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre cautions against sole reliance on it, especially in critical national infrastructure sectors, and suggests that PQC as standardized by the NIST is a better solution [14]. Meanwhile, the National Cybersecurity Agency of France has decided that QKD could be considered as a defense-in-depth measure complementing conventional cryptography, as long as the cost incurred does not adversely affect the mitigation of current threats to IT systems [15].

Quantum random number generators

Secure randomness is critical in cryptography – if the quality of randomness generators is poor, numerous cryptographic protocols will fail to deliver security. Although conventional hardware randomness generator technology is robust and secure against quantum computers, QRNGs have nonetheless attracted some attention in recent years. QRNGs work according to a physical realization of a quantum model, instead of the other physical processes used in conventional hardware randomness generators.

QRNGs are sometimes advertised as generating perfect unbiased random bits in contrast to the biased bits that come from conventional generators. In reality, though, any bias in the bits output by conventional generators is smoothed out in post-processing through the application of pseudo-random number generators, which work according to the same mechanism that enables a single 128-bit AES key to produce many gigabytes of random-looking encrypted data.

If QRNG technology becomes as well understood in the future as our current hardware randomness generator technology, then it could, in principle, be certified, validated and evaluated on the same grounds.


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